Have Labour realised the election is more than three years away?


5:37 pm - January 24th 2012

by Left Outside    


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I don’t think Labour really know that the game has changed. The move to fixed term parliaments means Ed Miliband find themselves in a totally different position to someone like Cameron circa 2005 or Blair in 1994.

In 2005 Cameron suspected the next election wouldn’t be for five years – and he turned out to be right. But he nearly had to fight an election in 2007 against a newly inaugurated Brown.

This meant that Cameron spent a lot time and effort trying to appear electable, trying to appear “in-touch” by visiting the arctic, liberal by hugging hoodies and as a better heir to Blair than Brown could ever be.

All this was essential when Labour could have called an ambush election at any point.

Tean Miliband seems to be employing a similar tactic. Liam Byrne is fighting to appear tough on benefits claimants, Ed Balls is trying to sound more fiscally conservative, even Diane Abbott is doing her best to swiftly cover up her gaffes. The commetariat are also playing along, they want to know if he is too ugly to be prime minister etc. Cameron moved left while Ed is moving right.

All of this is stupid. As Sunny has been documenting, not only is nuance from Labour Wonks confusing the public, those who aren’t confused couldn’t care less anyway.

I have a better plan for Ed, to be in operation for the next three years or so, or at least until a year before the election date. Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition should officially and unequivocally object, to everything, even good ideas, loudly and often.

First of all, this is essential to good governance. A noisy opposition ensures that a Government has to advance the strongest arguments for its policies and ensure the sharpest execution for fear of being lambasted. If all Tory mistakes are leapt on with gay abandon then the Tories will make sure they screw up less.

Remember the incorrect list of schools Gove released last year? That is what happens when people are not terrified of screwing up.

Even where this policy would be a trap it is good policy. For example, Miliband will gain almost no votes by opposing capping benefits at £26,000, but he won’t lose any votes either because, and this is important, nobody is voting until 2015.

Any damage supporting bad policies or opposing bad policy while in opposition can be shrugged off because the opposition won’t have done anything because they can’t.

Wrong calls can be disowned and vote winning stances embraced as manifesto fodder. A manifesto which won’t need to be published until 2015 because, I repeat, that is when the next election will be.

Plus, by being the voice of opposition Labour would be able to build an activist base which will be important in getting out the vote and campaigning come election time.

By playing the old game, where an opposition has to be constantly on the alert for an election Labour are strengthening the Tories, and doing damage to people’s lives. They need to shape up and realise the rules have changed.

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About the author
Left Outside is a regular contributor to LC. He blogs here and tweets here. From October 2010 to September 2012 he is reading for an MSc in Global History at the London School of Economics and will be one of those metropolitan elite you read so much about.
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Reader comments


For example, Miliband will gain almost no votes by opposing capping benefits at £26,000, but he won’t lose any votes either because, and this is important, nobody is voting until 2015.

In an ideal world this would be true, but there actually various elections before that date. And being smeared as opposed to popular measures now would be difficult to overcome, so opposition should not be blind.

Otherwise not a bad strategy, but I am not sure it is really a good one. Note that since 1979, every time a new government has come to power, the major (in two out of three cases only) party involved had actually got a coherent policy portfolio prepared – indeed, far more than the government at the time could manage. People don’t actually just vote on soundbites, but on issues and policies, and being unremittingly negative (and portrayed as very left-wing) and without ideas of your own is hardly going to attract supporters.

And remember, the base for Labour is not automatically going to vote – all other parties will be looking to break off bits of Labour’s support. That has to be easier if Labour aren’t offering anything – who do you trust, the politician who shouts and does nothing (and assumes you will vote for him) or the candidate who appears and explains his policies to you and how these might work. The sit and oppose policy relies on your own core vote tolerating it – are we that certain this will happen?

Essentially you want Labour to become the US Republican Party, and you think this will help to achieve good governance.

Not to come across as a troll, but I hate you. People like you, who are determined to turn politics into a game and hence ensure all the attendant tribalism, are the reason we can’t have nice things.

3. Leon Wolfeson

Only if the coalition hold together.
Of course, he’s managed to take a lot of pressure OFF the libdems.

Although, I wouldn’t put it beyond the coalition to change the rules again…

4. Disgruntled Gnome

I’m confused, do you mean “Have Labour realised the election IS more than three years away?”?

@OP, Left Outside: “Remember the incorrect list of schools Gove released last year? That is what happens when people are not terrified of screwing up.”

Yes, I recall the event but I am unsure about the cause. When people are relaxed, they get sloppy and make mistakes. That is a possible cause of the incorrect lists.

When people are under pressure, they also make mistakes. That is why restaurants cook more covers than they sell.

We can therefore conclude that:
* people make mistakes under pressure
* people make mistakes when relaxed
* there is a pressure/relaxation optimisation curve, akin to the Laffer or recently proffered “austerity curve”; best decisions are taken when decision makers are placed just about on top of the pressure/relaxation optimisation (or whatever) curve, with a bit of wiggle room either side; but damn it, this curve starts moving whenever I relax and whenever I get tense it kicks me in the bum.

6. Chaise Guevara

“Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition should officially and unequivocally object, to everything, even good ideas, loudly and often.”

Oh, that’s just what we need. Half a parliament full of No Men. That’ll really help to introduce reason, maturity and objectivity into the system. And it’ll help Labour look really, really great when the Tories eventually introduce a sensible and popular idea and Labour automatically object to it. “This plan to reduce child poverty is appalling, Mr Speaker! The honourable gentleman needs to realise that we need more child poverty, not less!”

I’m glad you’ve identified that the biggest problem facing Britain today is that there just isn’t enough party politics going on.

@OP, Left Outside: “For example, Miliband will gain almost no votes by opposing capping benefits at £26,000, but he won’t lose any votes either because, and this is important, nobody is voting until 2015.”

I think you are wrong on this presumption on arguments presented earlier by Watchman.

It is possible, with loads of contrary propaganda, to get voters to back generous welfare support. Perhaps somebody can help me, for date and location? During the New Labour years, the LibDems fought a parliamentary by-election against the Conservatives in the south-east of England; the Conservatives presented an anti-immigration case but were diminished in majority and reputation.

8. Leon Wolfeson

@7 – It’s not even necessary to be generous. With rent caps, only a few thousand households would top the cap, making it entirely unnecessary,

Do you seriously think Labour can vote however they want because no one will remember? Maybe the partisan voters who vote no matter what, but people actually interested in politics are at least going to remember some of the negative things they did.

Besides, this article should say that rather than wait until 2014 to sort out Miliband’s image, may as well leave it – everyone already knows he’s an indecisive buffoon.

Opposing for the sake of opposing… is exactly how people get turned off the whole business of politics.

With a big middle class, the days of strong party affiliation are over. Both parties have seen this as a reason to chase the centre, the floating voter. Everyone’s triangulating, the only game in town is positioning your party just inches to the right or left of the other party in order to get the win.

The last election however – “a pox on both your houses” – should have destroyed that strategy for everyone. We should all be talking about how Labour now goes about building solid, long-term support that isn’t going to float away as soon as someone else offers a tax break or hypes up immigration.

This is a process of rebuilding trust, as so many people at both ends of the political spectrum have become disgusted with the party’s arrogance, the infighting and the self-importance, the prioritisation of careers before country and politics before policy. (Personally, Labour’s snotty decision to go for opposition rather than form a coalition with the Lib Dems will take a lot for me to ever forgive. It made it clear that they were not interested in what was best for the country, just governing on their own terms).

So no, Labour shouldn’t focus on opposition, as that allows the coalition to set the agenda. They should focus on building a coherent vision that turns people on. And first and foremost, they should drop the rhetoric of talking about what’s good for Labour, or how to bring people back to Labour, or how a strong Labour party is good for the country. Time they woke up and realised that people don’t give two shits about Labour. We care about what’s good for our economy, for our society, for justice, for the environment, for global development and security. Labour needs to work out how to get out of our way and help us realise these goals. The party needs to remember that it is not an end in itself, it is a process.

I’m new to this blog, but I find it depressing that people are continuing to focus on details like the nuance of Balls’ positioning on the cuts. This is the old sterile game, the positioning and the triangulation – does it put us to the left of the coalition or to the right? How far? Nobody out there actually cares about this nonsense, as you can tell by the deafening silence of the reaction in the polls.

A while ago, a wonk came on and posted something quiet and wonky about how Labour should focus on building new institutions. He was ridiculed in comments, but he was absolutely right. In fact, he didn’t go far enough. Labour has to rip up the book and start again.

Greg – completely agree. Labour’s activities in parliament are 99% irrelevant to the outcome of the next election. (so they may as well do the right thing). What wins them the next election is being able to set the agenda with a vision of England’s future that the electorate agrees with.

Secondly they need to become English Labour, and leave the welsh and scottish sections of the party up to those areas where different strategies are needed to win elections.

watchmen, Brilliant.

Planeshift – I agree up to a point. They should do the right thing in Parliament in as much as it boosts their strategy, their vision. In practice this might mean choosing their battles.

The strategy has to be public, however, has to be inclusive, so people know what they are doing.

14. the a&e charge nurse

Whenever I feel stuck I sometimes go back to 1st principles – such as what is the difference, psychologically between those on the left and those on the right?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs41JrnGaxc

Vigorous opposition has never been more appropriate given the general direction of the coalitions policies (such as privatisation of the NHS).

@ 1 Watchman

” People don’t actually just vote on soundbites, but on issues and policies, and being unremittingly negative (and portrayed as very left-wing) and without ideas of your own is hardly going to attract supporters.”

I agree with that up to a point, and with the other posters who say that what we don’t need is unremittingly negative “no for the sake of saying no” opposition. The mistake would be to see policies which the red-top papers will no doubt label very left wing as somehow off limits.

Apeing the Tories/Coalition, moving to the right, and simply being New Labour Lite won’t win the next election. Being hard on immigration, benefit fraud, the EU, Scottish and Welsh “subsidy junkies” and all the other hot buttons for the unacceptable face of the British establishment will NOT win the next election.

Formulating a progressive, radical platform just might win you the next election tho. From the polls, it looks like the best Labour can hope for is another hung parliament and coalition with the rump LD’s, and possibly even outright defeat and a Tory majority government.

Bear in mind that the way things are going Labour will lose a bunch more seats to the SNP at Westminster; Scottish Labour are committing electoral suicide by lining up with the Tories over the independence referendum, so it’s a racing certainty they will lose seats in Scotland.

In the 3 years to the next election, by all means oppose the measures which are wrong from a principled stand point, but don’t fall for the lie that the only path to electoral success is being more royal than the queen! The SNP in Scotland didn’t have the press on their side; the Scottish and UK media is overwhelmingly hostile to them as a party and to their main raison d’etre. They have however taken votes from ALL 3 other parties in Scotland. It can be done.

Let’s hear more about how Labour will do things differently; how they will build more homes, improve our creaking infra-structure, engage positively with the EU and promote an ethical foreign policy, ensure a fairer and more equal society not by pandering to the city and the super rich, but by ensuring that ordinary people don’t end up paying higher tax rates than the bosses.

It is possible to be radical without being the Labour party of Michael Foot and the longest suicide note in history…. whether Miliband and Newer Labour are capable of doing it is open to much more doubt.

In short, they are reeling in a confused huddle, and seem to have no genuine conviction, other than to say what they imagine is required to grasp power again. The SNP’s victory in Scotland was less about independence, and more about Scotland’s yearning for a shift to the left. I’d say that the Labour should do the same. But they won’t, and in the short run up to the next election are more concerned with shadowing Condem policy than actually being socialists. And might I add, I give it 6 months before the vile Liam Byrne crosses the floor.


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